A Few Thoughts at the End of Six Feet Under

Today, I’m watching the last three episodes of Six Feet Under. Or, to be clearer—I’m weeping my way through the last three episodes. Six Feet Under aired on HBO from 2001-2005, and for 5 seasons we watched the Fishers and their funeral business. As the series opens, Nathaniel Sr. has just died, and adult sons David (Michael C. Hall) and Nathaniel Jr. (Peter Krause) must decide how to run the business, while teenage daughter Claire (Lauren Ambrose) struggles to finish school and mother Ruth (Frances Conroy) deals with life without a partner after over 30 years of marriage.

And the show is amazing. I’ve watched 5 seasons in about a month, which even for me is a feat to be managed–especially given how busy April was in general. I do tend to watch TV while I work, though which is one of the ways that I get so much watching in. I’m not at all good at sitting in a silent house, nor am I good at concentrating on just one thing at a time, so I keep the TV or music on while I’m working. And Six Feet Under was a great choice for background noise.

The show changes as it goes on–in the first season, we get more dark humor than in the last few seasons, including advertisements for products as interludes. These really change the tone of the show–as do the way the visits from the dead change over the series. In the beginning, the spirits are often jocular, and though they represent fears and concerns of the main characters, they often do so in humorous ways. Especially Nathaniel Sr. (Richard Jenkins), ever-present even in death.

And so, 5 things I love about the show, things I’ll miss now that I’m finished:

1. The acting. Six Feet Under has a cast of amazing actors, and the chemistry between them is fabulous. Casting is very, very well done.
2. The writing. The relationships between characters are complex–well-written and well-crafted.
3. Controversial topics and outright taboos. The vaguely incestuous relationship of Nate’s on-and-off lover Brenda (Rachel Griffiths) and her younger brother Billy (Jeremy Sisto). Mental illness and substance abuse. A mass shooting–and the humanization of the shooter. Sexual and racial discrimination.
4. And the heady mix of life and death. Rarely has a show more effectually mixed the concepts of living and dying. A family living in a funeral home in the midst of their own triumphs and griefs is a fantastic concept. The openings, always the death of someone whose funeral the Fisher family then handles, are sometimes funny, sometimes terrifying, and always poignant.
5. A show that knows when to say goodbye. A complete story arc is rare these days; even rarer is a complete story arc that works. Six Feet Under retained all its original cast members, and it has a real finale.

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